Cambrian: Sports

Cambria man to help referee U.S. Open tennis matches

Pro tennis linesman Darius Kaviani of Cambria, left, is joined by Andre Agassi’s former coach (and now broadcaster) Brad Gilbert and Hall of Fame player Martina Navratilova, above, at the U.S. Open in 2013.
Pro tennis linesman Darius Kaviani of Cambria, left, is joined by Andre Agassi’s former coach (and now broadcaster) Brad Gilbert and Hall of Fame player Martina Navratilova, above, at the U.S. Open in 2013. Courtesy photo

Tennis fans in Cambria will be seated in front of television sets at various times between Aug. 28 and Sept. 8, watching the U.S. Open — one of the four Grand Slam events in pro tennis — play out in high definition.

But Cambria resident Darius Kaviani will have a perspective several notches better than high definition: He will be on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, a few feet from players such as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, among others.

For the 11th straight year, Kaviani will be performing linesman duties at the iconic New York City event. He is a certified referee, a certified umpire, and as a certified ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) umpire; he also works Cal Poly and other collegiate tournaments.

His eagle eyes are also put to use at Indian Wells, the Maui USTA Men’s Tournament, and the Miami Open, among other events. He also will ply his trade starting Monday, July 28 (through Aug. 2) in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford University, where Serena Williams and five of the world’s top 10-ranked women will compete.

When a reporter arrived at his home Saturday morning, July 19, Kaviani offered fresh-brewed coffee on his luxuriously green back patio, and he eagerly popped out of his chair to demonstrate the exact motions (and thunderous vocal calls) he employs on the courts.

High school mentor

Kaviani immigrated to California from his native Iran in 1959, and after earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he taught physical education and coached tennis for 29 years at Tulare High School in the Central Valley. In those 29 years, his teams won 23 league championships.

In the summer of 1979, while other teachers worked summer jobs, Kaviani began training to become a certified referee — a path that led to today’s vocation.

Meanwhile the torrid summer Valley heat took a toll on his wife Leah, so he left the teaching profession and moved to Cambria in 2000.

“I retired early,” he explained, “but I wasn’t going to quit. I work tennis tournaments about 90 days a year.”

Staying in shape

A linesman’s duties are physically demanding, so Kaviani walks five miles a day (often on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve), and practices yoga at Gym One. “And I do a lot of stretching,” he adds with an easy smile that appears often during the interview.

Eyesight is a pivotal requirement for a linesman, so, “During even years, certified umpires must have an eye check, and on odd years they give you a background check,” Kaviani said.

Kaviani’s eyes are “better than 20-20” because he had a “triple lens implant,” and can see perfectly near or far.

From the front lines

Kaviani was working an exhibition tournament in San Jose in 2012 and John McEnroe (long since retired as a pro) faulted on three serves, and lost his challenge each time (the “Hawkeye” replay camera is the final arbiter).

“He turned to me and said, ‘Maybe I was wrong all those years.’ ”

During a San Diego tournament several years ago, top seed Venus Williams was well ahead in the final, and her father, Richard Williams, was seated directly behind Kaviani. Richard Williams apparently signaled to his daughter when to challenge, but each time video replay showed Kaviani’s call was correct. After the match, the father approached Kaviani:

“ ‘Great call, sir,’ ” he said.

Years ago at Indian Wells, Kaviani was working the baseline when Andre Agassi vociferously objected to an “in” call on a serve from Agassi’s opponent.

“Agassi went crazy. He shouted ‘You’re blind! You should never be in that chair.’ ”

The officiating umpire backed Kaviani’s call, and after the match (which Agassi won), Agassi walked over to Kaviani, “scratched my head and said, ‘That was a good call.’ ”

Before a Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, noted pro Kim Clijsters was serving warm-ups, and as some do in practice, she stepped on the baseline.

Kaviani was near to an umpire watching Clijsters; suddenly the umpire called “Foot fault!” Clijsters turned to the umpire and said, “Ma’am, I’m just practicing.” And the umpire replied, “So am I.”

“I really enjoyed that moment,” Kaviani confessed.

It’s clear he enjoys nearly every moment when his sharp eyes and powerful voice are put to good use in tennis tournaments from Stanford to New York, and at myriad stops in between.